Catholic faithful camp out on Copacabana Beach to participate in an all-night vigil before Pope Francis gave mass to those attending World Youth Day, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. REUTERS/Sergio Moraes
Pope Francis, in a stunningly candid assessment of the state
of the Catholic Church, said it should look in the mirror and
ask why so many people are leaving the faith of their
On the penultimate day of his trip to Brazil, Francis
delivered a long address to the country's bishops in which he
suggested elements of what could become a blueprint for
stopping what he called an "exodus."
"I would like all of us to ask ourselves today: are we still
a Church capable of warming hearts?" he said in a speech
remarkable for its frankness about the hemorrhaging of the
Church in many countries.
The Argentine pope, who is in Rio for a Catholic
international jamboree known as World Youth Day, referred to
what he called "the mystery of those who leave the Church"
because they think it "can no longer offer them anything
meaningful or important."
The Church has been losing members throughout the world to
secularism and to other religions, including in Latin
America, where evangelical groups have won over many
He acknowledged that many people see the Church as a "relic
of the past," too caught up in itself, and a "prisoner of its
own rigid formulas."
While he said the Church "must remain faithful" to its
religious doctrine, it had to be closer to the people and
their real problems.
"Today, we need a Church capable of walking at people's side,
of doing more than simply listening to them," he said.
"At times we lose people because they don't understand what
we are saying, because we have forgotten the language of
simplicity and import an intellectualism foreign to our
people," he said.
In Brazil, the number of Catholics has dwindled rapidly in
the decades since its once-rural population moved
increasingly to major cities, where modern consumer culture
has overtaken more provincial mores and where Protestant
denominations, aggressively courting followers in urban
outskirts and shantytowns, have won many converts.
"We need a Church capable of restoring citizenship to her
many children who are journeying, as it were, in an exodus,"
The address to the bishops complemented an earlier homily in
Rio's cathedral, where he urged priests worldwide to leave
their comfortable surroundings to go out and serve the poor
"We cannot keep ourselves shut up in parishes, in our
communities, when so many people are waiting for the Gospel,"
he said in the sermon of a Mass in Rio's cathedral.
Since his election in March as the first non-European pope in
1,300 years, Francis has been prodding priests, nuns and
bishops to think less about their careers in the Church and
listen more to the cries of those who are hungry to fill both
material and spiritual needs.
"It is not enough simply to open the door in welcome, but we
must go out through that door and meet the people!" he said.
Known as the "slum cardinal" in his native Argentina because
of his austere lifestyle and visits to poor areas, Francis
made a clarion call to clergy to take risks and go out among
the faithful who need them most.
"It is in the 'favelas' and 'villas miseria' that one must go
to seek and to serve Christ," he said, quoting the late
Mother Teresa of Calcutta and using the terms used in Brazil
and Argentina for shantytowns.
Francis has set a new tone in the Vatican, rejecting the lush
papal residence his predecessors used in the Apostolic Palace
and living instead in a small suite in a Vatican guest house,
and often eating in the common dining room.
The pope spoke as hundreds of thousands of young people were
converging on Rio's famed Copacabana beach for an all night
prayer vigil ahead of concluding ceremonies on Sunday, when
he returns to Rome.
Earlier, in a talk at Rio's theater, he said leaders must
address the issues raised in protests in Brazil, saying
dialogue was the only way to resolve the issues.
Latin America's largest nation has been rocked by protests
against corruption, the misuse of public money and the high
cost of living. Most of the protesters are young.
He urged leaders not to remain deaf to "the outcry, the call
for justice (that) continues to be heard even today" and, in
an apparent reference to corruption, spoke of "the task of